The three shot latte has kicked in. So has the third eye. Here is next week’s news for those who won’t have time to read the papers next week.

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Burma Myanmar announces name change

Myanmar has decreed a new name change. Again. Since the win by Win, Ne Win, in 1962 over the government you know as U Nu, Myanmar, taken from the short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw, or Myanma to be literally correct, has changed it name once from Burma, or Bama or Bamar as it is known colloquially, to the Union of Myanmar, pronounced pjìdàunzṵ mjəmà nàinŋàndɔ̀, or WTF for short.

The leader of the artist country previously known as Burma, Senior General Than Shwe (the man with the tan), announced the new name at a special event at the capital of Rangoon Yangon Pyinmana Naypyidaw. Senior General Than Shwe, also the Minister of Defence, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, Commander and Chief of the Defense Services, and Super Duper Admiral Main Big Dick with the Stick, announced the name as Nothing, or Nṵjəmàntàiŋɔ, or just nothing. Meaning “nothing”. Best way of spelling is ”                      ” and pronounced ”                       “.

Big Dick Shwe made the announcement at a large public execution celebration held at the capital Shitty City of the kings. Big Dick Shwe said that having no name will liberate ”                  ” as it is impossible to declare sanctions against nothing. And even more difficult to invade. A journalist who asked whether this nothing is also related to morality of the government, freedom of people and economic growth of the country could not be reached for comment. Or be reached at all. He disappeared into ”                    “. They dig deep graves in ”                    “.

Big Dick Shwe did disclose that the Military Junta (pronounced åşsħΦļəś) did consider changing their name to the United States of America but that it did not believe that it would be a major move forward under the current global political climate. His exact words were, “Why would I swap my Lada for a Trabant?” He continued by saying that they also prefer to attack their own people without any reason and don’t need to invade other countries to achieve this desired outcome. A collective roll of the eyes could be seen across the whole of Southeast Asia.

North Korea to have multi-party democratic elections

North Korea shocked the world today when it announced the first multi-party democratic elections to be held in North Korea in centuries. If not forever. Chairman Kim Jong-il made the announcement during the Mass Games glorifying his life as the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It was attended by his 100,000 most fearful loyal subjects. The elections will be contested by three parties – or as Chairman Kim Jong-Il said, “One more than the Americans”. It is unclear whether he was aware of the Libertarians and the Green Party. Or if Americans are aware of these two parties.

The three parties to contest the elections are The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Party, The Democratic Republic of Korea People’s Party, The People’s Party of the Democratic Republic of Korea. Together they will be known as the Three Socially Trivial Organizations Of Generally Exploited Societies (or the 3 STOOGES). All North Koreans will have the option to vote for any of the three parties. They also have the option to not vote. And they get a free prison sentence with option 2.

In a move that Chairman Kim Jong-il calls “a major leap forward in the evolution of democracy”, a minor deviation from traditional democracies will be part and parcel of the Korean democratic elections. All three parties will be represented by the same people. Each party will receive the same list of people from the Fatherland Accreditation & Representation Team (FART). The parties can decide where they put them on their electoral list. As long as they put them in the same order provided by FART. They can change the header. Almost. As long as it is the same header as provided by FART.

Chairman Kim Jong-il also announced that he will from now on be known as the Uber Chairman, seeing that his now very dead father already took the name of Eternal President. The word “damn” could be heard right after he made this announcement.

Mugabe says he is sorry

From the official Zimbabwean government controlled news agency – the Zimbabwean Information Panel & Intelligence Trust (ZIP-IT): President Robert Mugabe today said that he was sorry. It wasn’t clear what he was sorry about, but is it newsworthy that he said it in any case. We think it was because he forgot to water the plants.

My President kisses this ass 

In a separate development, the Zimbabwean police today arrested Zimbabwe on charges that it is undermining the President of Zimbabwe, Robert “Dick” Mugabe. Police spokesperson, Pa Pitt, said “It is much easier to just arrest the whole of Zimbabwe than continuing with our current practice of indiscriminate arrests. Our police farce, I mean force, is already stretched and we just can’t arrest people fast enough.” Pa Pitt said that the new Constitutional Rules and Accreditation for the Police (CRAP) law “will help cut down on bicycle use as we can’t afford the tyres anymore”. The new law was first mentioned in the Presidential memo known as My African Dictator (MAD). Chaos ensued right after the CRAP law came into force as the police kept on arresting themselves as part of the arrest of all Zimbabweans. President Mugabe introduced a new law to release the police through his ROBERT MUGABE law – Real Oppressive Bastard for Early Release Time: May U Get A Bloody Ending. It declared all military and police personal as non-Zimbabweans and above the law. Presidential spokesperson and brother of Pa, Stew Pitt, said “The puppets of the Big Dick is above the law. And that isn’t too difficult with the law being trampled in the dust”. Journalist were shocked that Stew Pitt actually made sense.

New UN study find Russians to be least corrupt

The UN released their latest study regarding the state of the world economy. The yearly report analyses the latest global development challenges and this year focused on the general health of the world economy. The 2008 report was titled International Trade – Society Under Constant Knowledge & Economic Depression (IT-SUCKED). Apparently the global economy is not doing well.

In a surprise development, Russia was ranked 1st out of 205 countries as the least corrupt country in the world. They were ranked at number 205 in 2007. Russian President Medvedev, not a tennis player, said that it was proof that Russia “is the best country in the world”. Commentators noted that he wasn’t as eloquent as Putin.

In an unrelated story, the UN Research and Empirical Agency for Learning (UN-REAL) was caught in an oil-for-food oh-the-fool controversy. The agency was researching the state of the world economy when they allegedly accepted bribes to influence the research findings. The agency was alerted to irregularities when they noticed that the Russia section included too many unscientific statements such as “wow”, “awesome”, “best ever”, “gnarly” and “wickedly cool”. The intern who wrote the piece, a surfer from Australia, have been suspended until further notice.

US Congress saves US airlines

In another bail-out plan, The White House and the US Congress announced drastic steps in an attempt to rescue the flagging US airlines industry. The steps were outlined in a new report called the Congressional Report on Airline Sustainability Hearings (CRASH). The hearings were initially delayed after most Representatives couldn’t attend the first meeting due to flight delays and cancellations. A number of Congressmen also didn’t have the $25 to pay for their extra baggage. Representative Do Nafin said that it was unfair to charge Congress extra for baggage as “we all carry baggage already and those cash envelopes aren’t that light you know”. Another Representative, Sting Kerr, was overheard saying that “the gravy train is so much quicker”. The new plans outlined in CRASH included charging passengers for landing, planes loaded in commuter rail instead of flying, pay-as-you-breathe slots for oxygen masks, and auctioning safety vest before take-off. The airline coalition, Airline Sillyness Strategy for Humongous Overheads, Legal Excuses and Stupidity (ASSHOLES), said that “it’s about time that politicians listen to us. They should remember who controls their luggage when they fly. And who cleans the toilets before foot tapping at airports.” A spokesperson for passenger rights, New Airline Institute for Luggage and Experience Deficiency (NAILED), responded by saying that “it’s just hot air meeting thin air”.

Republicans lays out deficit plan

In a bold move to try and be relevant again, the Republican Party denied that it was developing a new economic policy that will include the US changing its name.  GOP leader Michael Steele (pronounced My-Kill Steal) said that, “we are a proud nation and won’t do something silly and stupid like that”. He chuckled when reminded of the 2004 Presidential vote.

Mr Steal did acknowledge that they considered various options, including a name change, to be able to finance the budget deficit under a new Republican Party plan to get rid of the deficit. Apparently they realized ignoring it won’t do as it just won’t go away no matter how much you laugh at it or roll your eyes. Steal said they were under the impression that the US won’t have to pay back the debt to China or the Saudis if they changed the name. “How can they make us pay if the contract is under the name of the USA and we are known as something else like America or The Mighty One?”, he said. He said that Uncle Dick Chainy Cheney told him it won’t work. His idea of going under a new name and under the witness protection program would also not work. He is, however, considering this as a personal option after he leaves his current employment as the first African American leader of the Republican Party.

Steal said that they have instead come up with a much better plan that takes the best of the free market and mixes it with the land of the free. “A bit of freedom for all can go a long way,” was the specific words he used. Instead, he said, the Republican Party has decided to sell the naming rights of states to the corporate sector in a similar way that the NFL runs their stadiums. The initiatives will be led by the GOP-led State Technical Under-secretary of Property and International Declarations (STUPID). Early state name changes include T-eXxon-ASs for Texas, Ben & Jerry’s Taste of Vermont and Kentucky Fried (Virgina is being sought after by a cheap South African wine producer). Steal said that they have already told Mexico that New Mexico is not for sale. They also turned down the Chinese offer for naming the whole of the US “Little China Market”. Steal confirmed that they have yet to receive a single enquiry for either New Jersey and Utah. Not even when they offered to pay for someone to take them.

In another leaf taken from the corporate sector, the Republican Party’s new policy include changing the current Federal system to a Franchise system. The initiative has been dubbed the Federation – Working On Renaming Designations (F-WORD). Each state will be sold as a franchise. Steal said that they have yet to figure out the finer details of what people can do with the franchises, but that they might be able to “sell donuts or hamburgers or maybe even name a potato or orange after each franchise”. A collective roll of the eyes could be seen across the whole of the Americas.

The Republican Party also announced a new financial plan for when they take over again, the New Order: Monetary Obligations for National Economic Yield (NO MONEY), to stimulate* the economy. The NO MONEY plan include drastic measures to increase the budget income without too much of a burden on the expenses side. Some of these measures are:

1. A collection box at the White House. A collection box next to the visitor’s comment book at the White House. Heads of State visiting the White House will be asked to make a donation to their favourite White House charity. They can choose from the White House International Treasury Executor: Government Utilities Yield (WHITE GUY), Dick Cheney’s charity the New Objective: Here Everybody’s A Real Terrorist (NO HEART), and Backhanded Independent Gains: Overt Increased Liquidity (BIG OIL).

2. Dick Cheney to be switched off at night to save on electricity. Steal was especially proud of this step as he called it the Republican Party’s “green legacy”. They strengthened their environmental credentials when they mentioned that the Republican Party head office will also be powered by wind power (hot air) from now on and can’t do any environmental damage (or any damage for that matter) while being “switched off”.

3. New drilling concessions to oil companies. Steal announced that new concession will be given to selected oil companies to drill for oil in the Rose Garden at the White House. The first concession was given to a little known company called Go West: Big Utilities for Social Humiliation (GW BUSH). Ownership of the company is unclear at this stage and only list Real Objective Voice Enterprise (ROVE) as the PR (Political Relic) company handling GW BUSH communications. They could not be reached for comments.

4. Refocus on military spending. Military spending will be tightened under a new plan put forward by the “Shadow” Secretary of Defence, Ivino Eyedee. The plan, named National Obligation: Government Earnings And Redistribution (NO GEAR), will focus on the military equipment for soldiers in the field in Iraq. Eyedee denied that troops will not get the equipment needed to protect them and called the measures “a reversed increase in the procurement procedure for the acquiring of protective garments and other miscellaneous products, goods and services”. Journalist were seen working until late in the evening trying to figure out what the hell that meant.

5. Changes in election procedures. Steal, with rare support from the current Democratic powered Congress, announced drastic changes to the election process that will save millions of dollars – if not tens of thousands. Or “lotsa money honey”, as he called it. Steal and Speaker Pelosi released a joint statement that said the “two-pronged approach makes it easier for people to participate directly in the democratic process and bring some much needed cash into the economy”. Journalist were stunned by the clarity of that statement. They could almost understand it.

Firstly, at a Congressional election level, seats will be sold on a lottery basis at $100 dollars a ticket. Anyone can buy a ticket as long as they are an American citizen or if they have loads of cash they can buy a ticket at a premium price of $1 million per ticket. The national draw will be done on the first Sunday of each November – after church services but before Desperate Housewives. This was a compromise between Steal and Pelosi that threatened to derail negotiations.

The second improvement in the election process relates to the Senate elections. Or better stated – ex-elections. There will be no elections. US companies will participate in a bidding process for the right to nominate their own Senator. Steal said the “removal of the middle man will make the whole system much more efficient and open”. The middle man being the American voter. But the public will still be able to show their support for the Senators by buying products with the Senators faces on it. For example, milk cartons will have the face and name of the Senator on it with the slogan, “Have you ever seen your Senator?”. Although in principle only US companies can bid, Saudi Arabian and Chinese companies have been given permission to participate as they already own half of the US.

* Certain Republicans were seen giggling whenever Steal mentioned the word “stimulate”. Apparently some female White House interns were seen rolling their eyes.

Uzbekistan to privatize corruption

The Uzbekistan state department dealing with corruption, the General Regime of Accounting for Fund Transfers (GRAFT), announced today that all government corruption will be privatized. Minister of GRAFT, the Honorable Itaka da Muni, announced the decision at the yearly Banquet for Respected International Buy-off Executives (BRIBE).

Minister Itaka Damani at the announcement

Minister Itaka da Muni at the announcement

Minister Itaka da Muni said it showed the willingness and commitment of the Uzbekistan government to clamp down on uncontrolled and rampant corruption. He continued by saying that, “this is the end of tax-dodging corruption as you know it. We will be able to tax corruption as it should be by organizing corruption into a single department”. A key part of the policy is that all corrupt officials and the public at large will have to register to practice corruption in future. No corruption will be allowed without a government approved licence. Of course, they could take the option of paying GRAFT a bribe to be excluded from the registering process. Minister Da Muni acknowledged that there were still a few wrinkles that needed to be ironed out.

UK crime down sharply

Crime in the UK has dropped sharply over the first few months of the year. Minister of Police, Weir Pafetik (Welsh), said that the government policies introduced at the end of 2008 is starting to show some real results. He said that, “We kept these policies secret, but it proves our hard work is finally showing results”. He unveiled the policy, the highly confidential State Taxes Utilized for Fighting Felonies and Economic Depression (STUFFED), at a ceremony at Downing Street. (Recently renamed Down Street to cut back on letters and highlight the general health of the economy). Minister Pafetik said the policy had loads of stickers on to show how secret and confidential it was. He also acknowledges that he was forced to unveil it after Prime Minister Brown left it on the London Underground while visiting his gran.

The STUFFED policy was based on the very simple principle of supply and demand. Minister Pafetik said that, “We knew that if we can cut the supply off then there will be no demand and therefore no crime”. The supply in this case is the wealth and goods the average citizen owns in the UK. By slowly but surely strangling the economy to death, the government was able to make each and every UK citizen so poor that there was nothing left to steal or kill for.

Prime Minister Brown released a statement saying that this is more proof that his “tax-them-to-death” strategy when he was Treasurer is at last showing results.

The downside of the success of the STUFFED policy is that millions of criminals will now go on state benefits. Prime Minister Brown shrugged when asked about this and said, “We are what our policy says we are”. He refused to explain any further.

Prime Minister Brown did admit to rumors that he is currently considering removing himself as Prime Minister. He said that he is doing it “for the good of the country”. He went further by saying that there will not be a direct replacement as the government is currently considering outsourcing the role of government to either India or China. “The UK just can’t compete anymore and we have to be realistic that we need to make changes to ensure we remain competitive in the world political market.”

Tony Blair could be seen rolling his eyes, but most of Britain did notice as there was footie on the telly and the announcement was done on a Thursday when they are all in the pub anyway.

Zuma in hospital

Just in: President Zuma has been taken to hospital for urgent lip surgery. Presidential spokesperson, Gota Noklu, said that President Zuma developed a serious infection after kissing the asses of both COSATU and the SACP in “such a very short period of time”. Noklu said that it was serious as the President can lose the use of his lips and that the President will not be kissing any more asses until fully healed.

In an unrelated development, there were general celebrations in the streets all over South Africa with slogans such as “Read My Lips – No More Blades” and “From Your Lips To Vavi’s Butt”. Celebrations quiet down when people were told that President Zuma might still be able to lip read and blow kisses.

In a seperate political health update, All Most Health or Care hospital announced that the operations on Zuma and Zille went without a hitch. Known as the ZZ-Top operations, Zuma successfully had a brain implant and Zille a personality transplant. Doctor Ai Kutya, said that it was unfortunate that Marthinus Van Schalkwyk was not as lucky. The recent backbone transplant and morals implant both rejected Van Schalkwyk.

New sports announced for 2012 Olympics

London used the hype created by the less than recent Beijing Olympics to announce the new sports that will be introduced at the 2012 London Olympics. London Olympics for Special Entertainment and Recreation (LOSER) spokesperson, Sir Moannallot, said that “the new sports will show the world the true British contribution to sport and the world. We know that we are the world champions in these sports and we hope to build on our medal success at Beijing 2008”. The new sports include long distance queueing; breakfast swimming in fat, oil and lard; wrestling with bad breath; beach volleyball without a ball but with long socks and a rolled-up newspaper; diving like the influence of a lost colonial power; canoeing the flooded streets in a bowler hat because it always rains; sprint for the dole; and the semi-modern pentathlon to include M25 gridlock dodging gymnastics, hunt the immigrant, and knife fencing with a yob. Some of the events will take place at the Superiority Complex. London did consider bringing cricket and rugby into the Olympics but Sir Moannallot said that “we just couldn’t find any Englishmen who are good enough and we are really sick and tired of losing against the South Africans and Aussies”. Sir Moannallot said that Great Britain is proud to bring their own “unique flavor to the Olympics. This will be as exciting as our cooking”.

Painless circumcision

Scientists today found a new method to bring smiles to the faces of millions of young boys and tears to the eyes of grown men – painless circumcision. Russian researcher Ayi Kutof from the Observatory for Unilateral Circumcisional Health (OUCH) said that he believes that the old method “is just a rip-off”. He said that he can’t take all the credit and a special “thanks for the tip” to prof. Klippion the new method. When asked to go into more detail on what the new method might be, Ayi Kutof said that they are still trying to “cut through the” red tape and “that’s a sore point” but that the new procedure is “cutting edge”.

Nigerian 419 scams surpasses oil income

Nigerian 419 email scams has officially overtaken oil as the single largest export product. Minister for Socio-Political Order and Outside Finances (SPOOF), Taika Kash, said that “it is crucial for the Nigerian economy that we diversify our BOGUS* income streams. We can not rely on oil providing us with the only opportunities to RIP-OFF* foreigners”.

Minister Kash said that the new diversification of exports is part of the Nigerian government strategy to reduce their environmental impact. “Every email scam makes us less dependent on oil from the Niger Delta.” When asked what he meant, Minister Kash responded, “have you ever been to the Niger Delta area?” Minister Kash also announced plans to provide training courses for unemployed Nigerians to start their own small scale scam operations. “We will provide them with the training, computers and internet access to start their own scams”. Ministers Kash’s brother-in-law runs the training operations, but Minister Kash denied that he favored his family or that there is any truth in the rumors that people paid for training but never received any training. He said, “my brother-in-law, Runna Wey, is an honorable man and his business, Lessons for African Universities and National Direct Education in Refocusing International and National Graft (LAUNDERING), is known for the hard work they do all over the world. I just received an email from him telling me how hard he is working and that he requires another advance to complete the curriculum. It just shows how hard he works as he always needs more money”.

*After further investigations and pay-offs it was clarified that BOGUS stood for Buy-Off, Graft and Underhanded Strategies and RIP-OFF for Real International Potential: Overseas Financial Felonies. Both these strategies were identified after Minister Kash answered an email from a dying wife of the ex-President of the African Developmental Bank in Bamako. He apparently paid $500,000 to help the woman transfer $24 million dollars to his account. A letter from his bank informed him of the BOGUS transfers and that it was just a foreign RIP-OFF. But only after he paid the bank clerk for the information. Another transfer of $100,000 for the clerk to redo the transfer is currently in process. The clerk, Ura Sukka, told Minister Kash that the transfer is needed to implement the Bank Alliance Strategy for Transferring Accounts and Reversing Dollar Services (BASTARDS). Minister Kash then received a call from a branch manager, Cilli Naimes, informing him to come and pick him up the check in the Niger Delta area. Without any police involvement. Minister Kash said he hasn’t had the chance to pick up the check yet.

Shocking 20/20 religious expose

A shocking expose of religious groups in the US was done by 20/20. The first expose investigated a break-away Mormon sect in Utah that believed in monogamy. The sect leader, Wan Wyfe, denied allegations that he only had one wife and that he preached religious tolerance, respect for individual right and racial harmony. Wan Wyfe said “I deny that we are some group of happy people living normal lives. This is the type of rumor that gives sects all over the world a good name and we won’t tolerate that.

20/20 also showed a evangelical church where the Minister, Nou Maani, asked his congregation to not give him any money and that he was doing God’s work not for personal gain but because of his belief in God’s word. He denied the allegation when approached by the 20/20 team and said that “I have a responsibility towards my own life and greed and will not stand for the false allegation”. He also denied rumors that he is happily married and that he does not pay for prostitutes. “It is a disgusting rumor and I will not stand for these type of attacks on the evangelical right-wing churches”, he concluded.

In their last story on alleged religious mavericks, 20/20 investigated a radical fundamentalist Muslim cleric, Iluva Busch, who runs a Mosque that preaches love to Americans and all Westerners and who condemns terrorist attacks in any form. Imam Iluva Busch is alleged to have called off all jihads against Christian countries and Israel, and to have preached tolerance and love towards all religions in secret meetings at the Mosque where he teaches. Imam Busch refused to answer any questions, but a spokesperson for Imam Busch, Ilah-Ava Peece, said that the Imam has always been a radical and will not stand for the vicious rumors spread by the Western media. He refuse to respond to photo’s showing Imam Busch swimming in swimming trunks that looks like an Americans flag, having a laugh with woman wearing two-piece bathing costumes on the beach and Imam Iluva Busch reading The Satanic Verses.

20/20 stands by their allegation that “there are some pretty normal people out there in religious circles”.

This was going to be my first big moment as NACTU negotiator. My first time out against the big boys. I had to represent the trade unions at a round of negotiations on the government budget. And they guy I was going to have to face from the government side? One of my favourites and a big hero I looked up to during the fight against Apartheid – Trevor Manuel, Minister of Finance.

Unfortunately, I was also going to face Raymond Parsons from business. Raymond has one of those personalities that drives me absolutely crazy. An English South African with just enough of an Oxford accent to annoy the hell out of me – and with the same patronizing Oxford attitude that hints at knowing better than any of us and pity us for not being as bright as him. He also stood for everything I despised at that stage – a rich white guy who headed the white South African Chamber of Commerce during the Apartheid years. And when Apartheid ended? All of a sudden he never supported it and always fought it – just behind closed doors. Doors so bloody well closed that no one knew about this fight – not even him. Needless to say, we did not get along. But at least I will have Trevor there to calm me down as he was bound to be on my side. Hey, the trade unions joined him, the UDF and the ANC in the streets during the fight against Apartheid.

But first I had to learn something about budgets. I was a political scientist, not an accountant. I didn’t even do our budget at home – what do I know of the government budget plans? And I had two days.

Well, two days later I was ready. As ready as I was going to be. Did I know anything about the budget? No. But I knew just enough to be dangerous. I knew that the government was going to cut the tax on certain goods that they qualified as everyday goods. But I knew the goods was actually luxury goods for the majority of South Africans – video machines, video cameras etc. And that it was going to cost them 200 million Rand. For the same amount, they could cut the tax on paraffin and have a huge impact on poverty. The poor spent over 30% of their income on paraffin. And they will save around 15% or more – if the government agreed to cut the tax on paraffin. And business actually supported us on this. As is typical in all negotiations, we had to give to get, but we gave enough for them to agree to support us on the paraffin issue. So all the social partners of government agreed on the tax cut on paraffin – trade unions, business and NGO’s (they almost always supported our position). So it was a surprise that government decided not to cut the tax on paraffin, but rather on these ‘everyday goods’. Let’s rock ‘n roll.

As always, I got to the meeting early. I got a cup of coffee and got my notepad, pens, cigarettes and ashtray ready. Oldest negotiating trick in the book – back when you could still smoke when and where you wanted. Light a cigarette the minute you start losing your train of thought or see the other side coming out on top. Especially because neither Trevor or Raymond smoked in public anyway.

I waited for about 10 minutes. I just lit a smoke and in walked Raymond. We didn’t know each other that well at that stage. In fact, due to a mutual dislike, we never got to know each other that well at all. We exchanged a few pleasantries and I continued to smoke. Waiting for Trevor.

Trevor and his right hand (wo)man, Maria Ramos, walked in about 20 minutes later. Now remember, this was my first every negotiations and I was about to face one of my heroes. I was shitting myself with excitement. Trevor looked straight past me and leaned over to Raymond with a big smile and said, ‘nice to see you again Comrade Parsons’. What the hell? Comrade Parsons? Did Trevor just call this guy Comrade? I was shocked into silence – not that I said anything at this stage in any case, but I was stunned.

He turned to me and mumbled a hello. No handshake – never mind being called Comrade. I just sat there staring into space. Then it hit me. He knew this was my first time. He was going to try everything to intimidate me and bully me into submission. He is here to win an argument – every battle and the war by the time we walk out of here. What the hell do I do now? This guy has negotiated against the Apartheid regime to convince them to hand over power to the people. I am fresh in a new job and was still at university a few years back.

Trevor and Raymond started talking about the budget and took a few friendly jabs at each other. Friendly banter. No serious negotiations. Raymond was obviously playing the good cop and did not need anything from these negotiations. He was here to make Trevor feel good about business. But that was not the trade union style. I was going to sink or swim.

‘Excuse me’, I said uncertainly. Neither of them even looked at me. Trevor continued to share his thoughts on his budget with Raymond. Raymond just smiled his irritating little smile and nodded his head in agreement. A little bit louder, ‘Excuse me’. No recognition that I even existed – nothing, nada.

Sink or swim, Henk. Sink or swim.

‘Excuse me, Minister Manuel, can I ask you a question’. This time it was loud enough for them to stop talking and look at me. They couldn’t ignore me this time. Trevor looked up from his notes and stared at me from under his glasses. No ‘yes’ or any recognition that I hold some interest. My mouth was halfway open to say something when Trevor interrupted me and said, ‘you do know I am not here to negotiate with you’. What was that? He is pushing the boundaries here and almost being openly hostile. I didn’t even know how to start responding to this.

Sink or swim, Henk. Sink or swim.

He turned back to his notes and started talking about the budget again. All the time looking up at Raymond every few seconds. Acknowledging Raymond, but not me. It didn’t help that I sat to his right and Raymond straight ahead of him – but Trevor picked his spot last. And I could see why. Damn this guy is good.

I swallowed – maybe loud enough for other to hear. This was my time. I had one chance and nothing more. I had to make my move now. I lit a smoke, took a deep drag and looked at the burning end. I never once looked at Trevor or Raymond, but I could sense that they were looking at me. Or at least glancing – I could hear Trevor’s voice being a little bit clearer each time he glanced at me. I put the burning cigarette down in the ashtray and slowly started packing my stuff into my bag. Not looking up at them or acknowledging them at all. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. This was my play.

I took a sip of my cold coffee and took another drag of my cigarette – I hope they couldn’t see my hands shaking slightly. And then I slowly got up and picked up my bag. Stubbed the cigarette out and then looked up and smiled. I nodded my head at Trevor and mouthed a goodbye to Raymond – acting as if I didn’t want to interrupt their discussion – even though they stopped talking at this stage and was looking at me. I took my jacket and started making my way to the door.

Trevor looked at me and said, ‘where are you going?’ I stopped and looked at him – and then I gave him the friendliest smile I could manage at that stage and said, almost apologetically, ‘I am sorry Minister Manuel. I didn’t mean to interrupt your discussion. Please do carry on’. And then I turned back as if I was about to leave again.

Again Trevor asked, ‘but where are you going?’ – this time a bit louder to show me that he wants an explanation. I stopped and said, while slowly turning to face him, ‘well Minister Manuel, you said that you are not here to negotiate with me. So I am leaving. The trade unions didn’t send me here, all the way from Cape Town, to listen to your discussion with Raymond. I am sure it will be interesting, but I can read the minutes of the meeting if I wanted to know what you two are discussing. I am going back to the trade unions to tell them that you didn’t come to NEDLAC to negotiate with me. We were clearly under the wrong impression, thinking that we were meant to be equal partners and negotiate the budget – and for that I am truly sorry’. And with that I turned around and walked out the room.

I was as nervous as hell while I did all this – but it never showed in my voice. He walked straight into my quickly hatched plan. It was a huge gamble, but I knew I had to show him that I am not here to be pushed around. Not by him or anyone else. This will set the tone for future negotiations and everyone will push me around if I caved in at my first one.

Once the door closed behind me – I just stood there for a few minutes taking a few deep breaths and lighting another smoke. After a few minutes I started walking over to the receptionist to ask her to get me a taxi. The door behind me opened and I heard Maria Ramos call my name. I turned around and walked to meet her halfway. She explained that the Minister would like me to come back inside. And, she said, while lowering her voice and quickly looking left and right to see if anyone else could hear, he would listen to my questions. ‘But will he answer them?’, I asked. She gave me a quick smile, but was obviously not impressed by my attempt at humor. ‘He’ll answer’, she said, ‘but will you come back in?’ I nodded and followed her back in – this was way better than I could ever have hoped for. I didn’t expect him to back down. I just didn’t want to come away looking like a complete loser and/or idiot.

I sat down and made myself comfortable – coffee, smokes and notepad. Trevor looked at me and said, ‘you had a question’. I looked up at him and said the line I prepared in my head many times in the last two days, ‘Minister Manuel, you decided to not zero rate paraffin, but decided to zero rate what you call everyday goods instead. Tell me, Minister Manuel, when last were you in a township? Because the last time I checked most people didn’t even have electricity – never mind the money or need for ‘everyday’ products such as video machines or video cameras. But paraffin, now that is a completely different story…’

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